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How Far Has Subaru Performance Fallen? WRX Isn’t Even In The Best Model Conversation

Motor Trend picked its performance car of the year and announced the Chevrolet Corvette ZO6 is the winner. Where the next-generation WRX ranks revealed Subaru performance is not on anyone's radar because the 2022 Subaru WRX wasn't in the conversation. Here's why.

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Subaru's performance has fallen since the WRX STI was a serious contender among performance sports cars. When Subaru decided to drop the WRX STI after the 2021 model year, they also dropped out of the performance vehicle conversation. Motor Trend announced its performance car of the year, and the Chevrolet Corvette ZO6 is the winner. Where was the new WRX among the top contenders?

The 2022 Subaru WRX meets the Motor Trends performance vehicle of the year consideration criteria, but it was left out of the competition because it did not impress the judges. Motor Trend says that to be eligible, the vehicle must be new or significantly updated, and any performance-oriented vehicle can compete, including SUVs, hatchbacks, sedans, coupes, and trucks. "Any vehicle that can tackle a good winding road or tear it up on a racetrack is welcome," says M/T.

2023 Subaru WRX

The WRX received a complete remodel in 2022 but wasn't considered by Motor Trend. Models like the Hyundai Elantra N, Toyota GR Corolla, Kia EV6 GT, and Honda Civic Type R were in the finals for the top award. But not the lowly Subaru WRX.

Here's what Motor Trend said about the WRX when it was nominated for its earlier Car of the Year competition. The comments reveal why M/T didn't consider the WRX as one of the performance vehicles of the year.

2023 Subaru WRX

A few things MotorTrend likes about the WRX

The M/T judges found a few things to like about the new WRX. They said the next-generation WRX is "longer, lower, wider, and stiffer than the version it replaces. In theory, those are good things with its new 2.4-liter turbocharged engine upgrade over the 2.0-liter turbo Boxer."

The WRX stays with a formula that works. It comes standard with Subaru's Symmetrical all-wheel-drive with all-weather performance. They say the new Subaru Performance Transmission CVT automatic makes it more practical as a daily driver in city traffic. And the 6-speed manual "is quite fun."

But they found more not to like about the next-generation WRX. But in practice, M/T says things are more complicated. "The new engine, despite being bigger than the 2.0-liter turbocharged flat-four it replaces, only makes three more horsepower and is less efficient with the manual than before. Worse, it makes the new WRX among the slowest we've ever tested, including the plucky 2002 original."

The WRX's 2.4-liter turbo engine and 6-speed manual

M/T says the new WRX's FA24 2.4-liter turbocharged Boxer engine's power band is too narrow, and "its engine is laggy and peaky." They appreciate the 6-speed manual gearbox but have issues with it too. "It's also rewarding to row through the mostly positive-feeling shifter, even if it's slightly clunky at times."

The SPT automatic option

They disdain the new WRX Subaru Performance Transmission (SPT) automatic. "The SPT version feels like a slightly edgier Legacy sedan," deputy editor Alexander Stoklosa said. Even worse, and speaking toward their performance of the intended function criterion, numerous editors said the SPT-backed WRX wasn't fun to drive. "It's a fine car, but not a good WRX."

M/T judges say they liked the new WRX sheet metal, but most found the new tablet-sized infotainment display's graphics and UX unrefined. The Subaru scored safety points for offering the latest version of its Eyesight driver assistance, though the system is unavailable on the popular manual-transmission version.

The bottom line

"Ultimately, the manual WRX lives up to its reputation for satisfying all-weather performance, but as a lineup, and crucially against our criteria, the new WRX doesn't rise above the fray," says M/T.

Our take

The next-generation 2022 Subaru WRX is the best performance model the Japanese automaker has produced. The new FA24 2.4-liter turbocharged engine is a significant upgrade over the 2.0-liter Boxer, even with its small increase in horsepower. Performance fans will modify the new engine with aftermarket upgrades to get more horsepower, so the three-horsepower increase is not an issue.

The Subaru WRX with the new Subaru Performance Transmission CVT automatic will appeal to a few drivers, but 90 percent of buyers will still pick the 6-speed manual option. Subaru includes an automatic in the sport-tuned WRX lineup so they can equip it with EyeSight to get the top IIHS safety scores for the sports car.

Subaru's biggest failure is they discontinued the WRX STI too soon. The WRX STI was the flagship of Subaru's performance brand, and its value was worth more than Subaru could have realized. Subaru says they dropped the STI to develop a new all-electric performance model. The testing is underway, but its launch date has been pushed too far out.

When will performance enthusiasts see the new WRX STI?

Subaru Corporation could take five to eight years to return to the STI performance sports car. It will look very different and be either all-electric, have hybrid technology, or have an internal combustion engine under the hood scoop that runs on a new synthetic fuel. Subaru is looking into all possibilities.

The WRX is a good sports car value, but it was not developed by Subaru to be a high-performance model that will compete with the top vehicles. It's not a surprise that WRX didn't get any consideration with Motor Trend, and it's not in the conversation. Subaru will be considered a serious performance vehicle contender once they bring back the performance-tuned STI.

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Denis Flierl has invested over 30 years in the automotive industry in a consulting role working with every major car brand. He is an accredited member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press. Check out Subaru Report, where he covers all of the Japanese automaker's models. More stories can be found on the Torque News Subaru page. Follow Denis on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

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Photo credit: Subaru USA

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Antonio (not verified)    January 22, 2023 - 2:14PM

This article is useless. Why write an article about a motor trend article when you could just read the original article? So mid...